Written by: Daniel McDonald
It’s a true joy to come across something in “Horrorville” that completely defies all expectations. It’s even more joyful when an oft – dreaded sequel to a vilified, but money making first film, blows all memories of the initial disaster away. Quija: Origin of Evil, is just such a film. Director, co-writer (with Jeff Howard) and editor Mike Flanagan’s mini-masterpiece is so far removed from the original, it seems irrelevant to mention it in this piece, although we have to give it props for having a title that can inspire phenom Flanagan to produce a successful on all levels film like Q 2 (not the title, but easier to write).
As the film opens, in (a beautifully evocative) 1967 we’re introduced to the Zander family, a mother and two daughters (Flanagan’s first excellent decision. These are three powerhouse actresses, Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso and an exceptionally brilliant Lulu Wilson). Each of these ladies are given very challenging characters and a narrative that could easily slip into melodrama in lesser artist’s hands, hence the titular Macbeth reference; this is a terrific good/horribly evil trio! Flanagan takes basic horror tropes, and with a masterful hand and very creative vision, utilizes these three to maximum impact. I was expecting a good time since he created two terrific low budget horror/thriller films, Oculus and especially the highly effective Hush (editor’s note: Flanagan’s breakout film, Absentia epitomizes the idea of crafting a brilliant microfilm, and also comes highly recommended).
The family is running a phony fortune telling/medium business. Each of the daughters assist their widowed mother with fake effects that help convince their victims they’ve reached their loved ones. There’s an underlying tension for each of the women that both unites them and causes emotional rifts, and it seems to have supernatural elements. The addition of an all too familiar Ouija board in the wrong hands results in a solidly effective “possession” thriller.
I don’t want to give away too much “spoiler” information on the film because, even with the inclusion of various well known horror genre tropes, the script has its twists and surprises. One slight detriment (I say slight because Flanagan’s superb directorial and editorial skills elevates the entire project into a PG-13, but completely effective horror thriller) hinders the film. My least favorite type of scare tactic is the so over used jump/boo! for almost always nothing but loud orchestral sounds, a friend’s hand or any other body part entering the frame quickly, or a non-existent, supposition of evil that isn’t there. Flanagan includes a few of these in Q 2, but they are almost always justified and carry the narrative, so I didn’t feel they were contrived.
It’s the long term slowly escalating tension, occurring while the script gives us time to get to know and connect with its characters (including a very good Henry Thomas as an intuitive priest/ally and Parker Mack as central daughter Annalise’s charming, handsome, unfortunate boyfriend Mikey) into a story that starts it’s horror roller coaster ride a third of the way in, and never stops surprising and terrifying the audience until after the clever credits have rolled.
Flanagan the director, (along with creative cinematographer Michael Finognam) displays an absolute passion for period detail, the film even opens with the 60s-70s Universal logo and even have the small upper right corner blip, that reminded projectionists to change the reel!! Using very creative light and shadow to enhance mood, atmosphere and terror, Flanagan the editor creates a confident pace, keeping the initial low key tension percolating, and knows just where and how to ratchet it up to mercilessly intense as the narrative unfolds. Production design and damn good special effects bely a 6 million dollar budget. This film looks terrific.
With the addition of this gem to the wonderful Lights Out and even better Don’t Breathe, the amount of pre-Halloween cinema may be limited, but it’s quality all the way…I’m just saying…
Rating: 4.5 / 5